Luke Cassidy shortlisted for Desmond Elliott Prize; Belfast Book Festival set for take-off

A preview of Saturday’s books pages and a round-up of the latest literary news


In Saturday’s Irish Times, Irish journalist Jonathan Drennan tells the shocking story of British international athlete Anyika Onuora, whose memoir he has written. John McCourt writes about the history of the International James Joyce symposium. Sian Smyth discusses the stresses, strains and joys of organising the Dalkey Book Festival post-Covid. And James Vincent, author of Beyond Measure: The Hidden History of Measurement, tells the surprising story of the inch and the second. Reviews are Anne Fogarty on the Cambridge Centenary Ulysses edited by Catherine Flynn & The Book About Everything edited by Declan Kiberd; Paschal Donohoe on The World in 2050, How to Think About the Future by Hamish McRae; Siobhan Kane on Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris; Seán Hewitt on the best new poetry; John Gibbons on Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet by George Monbiot; Niamh Donnelly on Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley; Muiris Houston on The Imaginary Patient: How Diagnosis Gets Us Wrong by Jules Montague; Oliver Farry on Xi: A Study in Power By Kerry Brown; Éilís Ní Dhuibhne on Old Rage by Sheila Hancock; Brian Maye on Walter Macken: Critical Perspectives by Sandra Heinen and Katharina Rennhak; John Self on This Train Is For by Bernie McGill; and Sarah Gilmartin on The Seaplane on Final Approach by Rebecca Rukeyser.

This Saturday’s Irish Times Eason book offer is Dinner Party, the critcally acclaimed debut novel by Sarah Gilmartin. You can buy it with your paper for just €4.99.

Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy has been shortlisted for the 2022 Desmond Elliott Prize, an annual award for the best first novel written in English. It is named after the Irish literary agent and publisher, Desmond Elliott, in memory of his passion for discovering and nurturing emerging authors and run by the National Centre for Writing.

Also in the running to win the £10,000 award are Keeping the House by Tice Cin   and Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer. All three titles on the shortlist feature female protagonists who have been dealt a difficult hand, from heartbreak to economic deprivation to a devastating medical diagnosis.

The 2022 judging panel is chaired by Derek Owusu, who won the award in 2020 for his debut That Reminds Me; award-winning journalist and author Symeon Brown; and Cheltenham Literature Festival’s Programme and Commissioning Manager, Lyndsey Fineran. Owusu said: “This was a difficult shortlist to pull together as there were so many incredible books to choose from, but the three that we have chosen we feel best reflect the spirit of the Desmond Elliott Prize. Each book is inventive, transportive and possesses the ability to elicit that feeling of awe that every reader recognises when they’re reading a profound piece of literature.”

In Iron Annie, Luke Cassidy tells the tragic yet hopeful story of Aoife, a woman who knows almost everyone in Dundalk’s underworld. When Aoife meets Annie, a beautiful whirlwind of a person, Aoife’s desire to learn more quickly becomes a need, and then an obsession – to know this dangerous woman, to love her, to keep her. About the novel, Owusu said: “Luke Cassidy takes us on a road trip through the gritty underworld and complicated elements of friendship, love and society. With a language all his own, Cassidy has produced an incredible debut, filled with energy, oddball characters and a lot of compassion.”

In Keeping the House, Tice Cin offers a fresh take on the machinery of the North London heroin trade, lifting the lid on a covert world thriving just beneath notice. In Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer, in which a sudden diagnosis upends Lia’s world and the boundaries between her past and her present begin to collapse.

The winner will be announced on July 1st.

The Belfast Book Festival, which begins on Friday 10th June at the Crescent Arts Centre in South Belfast, is renowned for nurturing local literary talent. But the festival’s most surprising guests come all the way from Mozambique.

The Crescent is host to one of Ireland’s largest colonies of swifts. Each year, as the book festival begins, the swifts return from Africa to their long-established nesting sites on the roof of the Crescent. Suddenly the skies around the historic building are full of birds: swooping, darting, calling out to one another with what sounds like cries of wild delight.

They will stay in Belfast for about 100 days, raising their young, before beginning their extraordinary journey back to Mozambique.

Sophie Hayles, chief executive of the Crescent Arts Centre, says that the presence of the birds, and the responsibility of providing a safe haven for them, prompted the festival team to focus on the idea of home, migration and what it means to belong somewhere.

“We’ve been thinking a lot about the Crescent’s role in the ecology of the city, as a civic space, and how we genuinely create a welcome for everyone,” says Hayles. “So this year we’re providing plenty of opportunities for people to call in, perhaps to visit our pop-up library, or to watch artists at work, or listen to story-tellers, or even just have a chat.”

In response to the current cost of living crisis, the book festival has adopted a pay-what-you-want policy for all its readings and events. The recommended ticket price for each event is £7, but festival-goers have the option to pay less, more, or nothing at all.

The best-selling crime writer Ian Rankin, philosopher AC Grayling and Serena Terry, the creator of the Mammy Banter Tiktok videos, are among the authors due to take part. There’s also the builder and entrepreneur Harrison Gardner, New York Times journalist Patrick Radden Keefe, and TS Eliot Prize Winner Joelle Taylor, as well as many talented local authors and poets, across more than 50 events.

Remarkably, you can attend all of these events for free, should you choose to do so. Isn’t the festival taking an enormous financial risk?

Sophie Hayles acknowledges that it’s a radical move, but she believes it will pay off. “You can decide to pay more than the recommended ticket price, if you want, and in doing so you’re supporting others to attend,” she says.

In recent months, the Crescent has been developing a relationship with Fane Street primary, which is the closest school to the centre. Fane Street has one of the highest number of ‘newcomer’ pupils in Northern Ireland: those who didn’t originally have English or Irish as their first language.

Youngsters from as far away as Afghanistan, Iran, Zimbabwe and Somalia attend the school. Children’s author and illustrator Barry Falls has been working with primary 6 pupils to prepare a special book about their memories and experiences, and what it means to belong, which will be launched at the festival.

And of course, the swifts themselves – whether as image, as metaphor or as poetic inspiration - take centre stage in many events and workshops.

Artist Patrick Murphy has produced a print called ‘HomeBird’, which features the word home in 18 different languages, and the Northern Ireland Swift Society is offering people the opportunity to make their own swift boxes, to help boost the number of potential nest sites.

Sarah Gibson, the author of ‘Swifts and Us: the Life of the Bird that Sleeps in the Sky’ will be in conversation with nature writer and poet, Mary Montague. “They have a totally aerial life, that’s what’s so fascinating about swifts,” says Gibson. “They catch all their food in the air and they only stop when they’re breeding. They could be on the wing for years at a time.”

Their nesting materials, too, are plucked from thin air: feathers, tree seeds, wisps of grass. As they prepare to leave the nest, the fledglings do press-ups on the tips of their wings, to build up their muscles. There’s no second chance for them: as soon as they fledge, they must fly.

Peter Cush, of the Northern Ireland Swift Society, is a frequent visitor to the Crescent, where he spends hours watching the breeding birds. “One glorious time, usually after sunset, you see the young ones throw themselves out of the nest,” he says. “They plummet down, and it looks like they’re hurtling to their death. But within five seconds, they feel the air beneath their wings. They do a couple of loops around the Crescent and then they’re off. They’ll be in Madrid three days later. Then they cross the Mediterranean into North Africa and work their way down via Zimbabwe. By Christmas Day they’ll be flying over the Limpopo River in Mozambique.”

For Mary Montague, the swift has “an irresistible glamour” as a species. “It’s the fanatical extremity of their lives – they swim in the air as a fish swims in water. For all their wildness, they have adopted us to provide their nest sites. But swift numbers have collapsed in the last 50 years, because we’re tidying up and smoothing out our buildings too much, leaving them fewer spaces to nest.”

“The swift is just like us,” says Sarah Gibson. “It needs what we need: a safe little place to rear its young. And because it’s a borderless bird, the swift is a symbol of integration too, reminding us of how inter-connected we all are.”

The Belfast Book Festival is at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast, 10-19 June 2022

*

The National Library of Ireland will celebrate the birthday of WB Yeats with a lecture focusing on his relationship with James Joyce. The annual Joseph Hassett Yeats Lecture will take place on Saturday, June 11th, at 6pm, and is entitled WB Yeats: A Portrait of the Poet as a Joyce Critic.  It will be livestreamed from the NLI’s Reading Room. The lecture will be delivered by Joycean scholar and professor of English at the University of Macerata, Prof John McCourt.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe was the guest of honour and principal speaker at the launch of Periodicals and Journalism in 20th-century Ireland, edited by Mark O’Brien and Felix M Larkin, on Tuesday, June 7th. The launch took place in the Cregan Library on the St Patrick’s Campus of Dublin City University.

This new book is the second volume of essays on periodicals and journalism that O’Brien and Larkin have edited. The first appeared in 2014. The present volume comprises 15 essays. Most are studies of individual periodicals such as Fortnight and The Phoenix, but some survey a number of periodicals with the same target audience or a common purpose such as women’s magazines and Jesuit publications.

A thread running through the various essays in the book is how periodicals made freedom of expression a reality in 20th-century Ireland, and at the launch Minister Donohoe and other speakers emphasised the importance of periodicals in providing outlets for a wide variety of voices in Irish society.

*

Whether you want to see what’s hot in fiction this month, or need to find a non-fiction book on a particular subject, Books Ireland has you covered. First Flush is their fully searchable list of upcoming books every month. Search by genre, keyword, author or title, or just browse.

First Flush has been a vital resource for new book releases since the 1970s but its move to digital makes it even easier for readers, booksellers, publishers and librarians to see which books will be on the shelves. Alongside the official Irish Bestseller Charts, all data is supplied by Nielsen

booksirelandmagazine.com/first-flush-search-cm/

*

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alison Gilliland, and journalist and author Clodagh Finn have joined forces to create Her Keys To The City, a book which honours 80 Dublin born or Dublin based women who contributed significantly to their field of work but were under-recognised for their achievements. In advance of the book’s launch on June 17th, Twitter Women will host both for a panel discussion about the book alongside Twitter Head of Public Policy, EMEA, Karen White, and Twitter International Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility (IDEA) Lead, Olivia McEvoy on Tuesday, June 14th at 12.15pm. The event will be live-streamed via Twitter Live from the @TwitterDublin handle.

*

The AKO Caine Prize, an annual award given to an African writer for a short story published in English, has announced its five shortlisted authors selected from 349 entries from 27 African countries. They are: Joshua Chizoma (Nigeria) for ‘Collector of Memories’, Nana-Ama Danquah (Ghana) for ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’, Hannah Giorgis (Ethiopia) for ‘A Double-Edged Inheritance’, Idza Luhumyo (Kenya) for ‘Five Years Next Sunday’, and Billie McTernan (Ghana) for ‘The Labadi Sunshine Bar’. Okey Ndibe, chair of judges, says: ‘The 2022 entries represented a staggering feast. It was a testament to the vibrancy, variety and splendour of creative talent among writers of African descent.’ Akashic Books dominate the list with three shortlisted stories (Danquah, Giorgis, McTernan) having previously been published in their award-winning Akashic Noir original noir anthology series; additionally, Nana-Ama Danquah was the editor for Accra Noir, the anthology in which her and McTernan’s story features.

Each writer shortlisted for the AKO Caine Prize receives £500; the winner will receive a £10,000 prize. If a work in translation is chosen as the winning story, the prize will be shared between the author and the translator. The winner will be announced at a ceremony held at the V&A in London on July 18th.

*

The return of the Immrama Festival of Travel writing is just around the corner as the Lismore based festival returns from June 16th to 19th.

Famous for gathering tales of travel and adventure joining the festival this year be Des Ekin, who will talk about Ireland’s Pirate Trail; best-selling author whose book, An Unsung Hero, the biography of explorer Tom Crean, opened a new chapter in Irish history and stimulated widespread interest in Ireland’s role in Polar exploration – Michael Smith.

Historian Donald Brady, one of the founding members of the music group De Dannan - Charlie Pigott; Southern correspondent for Independent Newspapers and author Ralph Riegel; travel writer Thom Breathnach; journalist, broadcaster and barman Billy Keane will share Travel stories from within and outside of his head and on Sunday morning the traditional Literary Breakfast returns to Lismore Golf Club where Turtle Bunbury will talk about Women of Munster - The Adventures Lola Montez and Eliza Lynch. For further details and to pre-book tickets see Immrama.com. or call 085 8628445.

*

To coincide with World Refugee Day, June 20th, the Irish-language publishing house An Gúm has released a translation of La Cache by the Belgian writer Thierry Robberecht. Translated from the French under the title Faoi Cheilt by Aifric Mac Aodha, the novel tells the story of Elsa, a fourteen year-old French girl who makes friends with Bachir and his family while volunteering at a Syrian refugee camp. Written from Elsa’s perspective, Faoi Cheilt explores ideas of prejudice and injustice, and without sermonising in any way, invites young (and older) readers to imagine a refugee’s perilous journey from persecution to uncertain safety. https://bit.ly/397njph

READ MORE